FAA Targets Boeing Over Blowout: ‘This Should Never Have Happened’

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LOS ANGELES — The Federal Aviation Administration will investigate Boeing over regulatory compliance after a harrowing blowout aboard an Alaska Airlines flight bound for Southern California revealed similar deficiencies in other Boeing jets and led to the grounding of hundreds of all 171 Max 9 jets Operated by Alaska and United airlines.

On Friday, a “door plug” installed on a Boeing 737 Max 9 was ripped from the plane shortly after it departed from Portland, leaving a gaping hole in the fuselage and depressurizing the cabin 16,000 feet in the air. The plug covers up an optional emergency exit in the plane’s body, appearing from the inside to be a standard passenger window.

The blowout led to the indefinite grounding of all 171 Max 9 jets, including 65 operated by Alaska Airlines and 79 flying in United Airlines’ fleet, prompting hundreds of daily flight cancellations across the nation. Earlier this week, both airlines said they found loose bolts and other “installation issues” with door plugs during initial inspections in the wake of the Alaska Airlines incident.

On Thursday, The FAA announced a full investigation into the jet’s manufacturing process, and regulators did not mince words.

“This incident should have never happened and it cannot happen again,” the agency said in a statement. “FAA formally notified Boeing that it is conducting an investigation to determine if Boeing failed to ensure completed products conformed to its approved design and were in a condition for safe operation in compliance with FAA regulations.”

The FAA’s broader probe into Boeing practices adds to the investigations launched in the days since Flight 1282’s emergency landing. The National Transportation Safety Board is looking into Alaska’s decision to allow the plane to fly despite earlier depressurization warnings, and examining the role of a Kansas-based supplier tasked with installing the door plugs before inspections and final touches are completed at a Boeing plant outside Seattle.

Earlier reports revealed Alaska had barred the plane from flying over the ocean after pilots reported warning lights indicating brief changes in cabin pressurization in the days before Flight 1282.

According to The Seattle Times, NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy said this week that initial findings did not suggest the airline erred in its decision, noting the pressurization system was “triple redundant,” with backups quickly correcting the issue, and that Alaska’s move to restrict long-range flights was a strictly voluntary precautionary measure.

“[A]t this time, we have no indications whatsoever that this correlated in any way to the expulsion of the door plug and the rapid decompression,” Homendy said.

As for the door plug’s installation, the Associated Press reports investigators have yet to say whether Boeing or its supplier, Spirit AeroSystems, were the last to work on the device.

Alaska Airlines announced Wednesday it expected to cancel 110 to 150 flights per day while its Max 9 planes remain grounded. FAA officials said the probe would focus on the circumstances around the lost plug and examine “additional discrepancies,” with no set timeline for returning the aircraft to the skies.

“Boeing’s manufacturing practices need to comply with the high safety standards they’re legally accountable to meet,” the FAA wrote Thursday. “The safety of the flying public, not speed, will determine the timeline for returning the Boeing 737-9 Max to service.”

In a statement shared the day after the incident, Boeing’s leadership pledged to work with federal regulators to ensure the problem was corrected.

“Safety is our top priority and we deeply regret the impact this event has had on our customers and their passengers,” Boeing said. “We agree with and fully support the FAA’s decision to require immediate inspections of 737-9 airplanes with the same configuration as the affected airplane. In addition, a Boeing technical team is supporting the NTSB’s investigation into (Friday’s) event.”

In an all-hands meeting with employees Tuesday, Boeing President and CEO Dave Calhoun promised full transparency with the FAA and NTSB and underlined the importance of ensuring safety standards.

“This stuff matters, everything matters, every detail matters,” Calhoun said. “I know I’m preaching to the choir here. This isn’t a lecture, not by any stretch, it’s nothing more than a reminder of the seriousness with which we have to approach our work.”

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2024-01-11 19:14:59 , Petaluma Patch

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